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Which emotion(s) — joy, envy, rage, pity, or something else — do you find to be the hardest to contain?

When I was young I had some problems with anger. I can remember some bad arguments with my younger sister (we’re 6-1/2 years apart). I can remember throwing or kicking things when I was angry. I never kicked my dog, but I did get unreasonably angry at times, and some of that was frustration.

Some of my anger may have been caused by our family situation. My father died when I was 14 and left his wife and two daughters kind of rudderless. My mother was simply incapable or unwilling to fill his shoes as the head of the family. She often discussed problems (money, moving, buying something) with me when I was really too young to be involved in such decisions. Since my dad died so young, we really weren’t left with a lot of money to live on — certainly not what we were used to, and my mother didn’t do money management well, nor did she want to work. Often what money I earned (and I started working part-time when I was 16) went for household expenses. Fortunately my grandparents were supportive and financially helpful. When I was nineteen my mother and sister moved from Ohio to Florida to be close to her parents and I went off to Scotland to University, and never lived at home again. A lot of my university expenses were paid my my grandparents, bless their souls.

The other emotions I have dealt with for much of my adult life are resentment and guilt. These, I think, stem from a lack of self-esteem, or not knowing what I wanted from life. I kind of played “follow the leader” when I got married — but instead of expressing my wants and needs (which weren’t even always clear in my mind), I would feel resentful. I also felt that if anything went wrong in the family setting, it must be my fault. It was my first reaction to bad events.

Thankfully, I finally had to come to grips with my negative feelings, and did so through counseling — a good long stretch of it. I am also an alcoholic — it coexists well with a poor self image and resentment — and have benefited greatly from almost 20 years in “the program” (AA).

My life is now well-balanced. I don’t feel extreme emotions; in fact I rarely rise to joy. But I now know what is good for me and what isn’t. I love and live by the slogans of AA and most of all by the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In action, those are powerful words. The “courage to change the things I can” sometimes moves me outside my comfort zone, but I have more inner strength now to do what is best for me, and that means not entertaining negativity.